A volunteer group of Canadian military veterans and civilians has begun the grueling task of sifting through the wreckage of Lytton, B.C., homes in search residents’ heirlooms.
Team Rubicon Canada was formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, where they helped hundreds of families recover irreplaceable items that survived the flames.
Team members arrived in Lytton in June, where they helped staff the village’s emergency operations centre.
On Tuesday, they began deploying to fire-ravaged homes on the Lytton First Nation, explained Team Rubicon Leader Ric Henderson.
“We’ve got basically a large screen. So it’s placing that debris with a shovel on the screen, and it’s almost like panning for gold, if you would, and shaking that screen and getting the material through to see if we can find things for people,” he said.
“We’ve been doing very well, recovering some very important things for some people.”
Due to toxic hazards from the fire, members need to don hazmat suits and respirators and go through a decontamination process at the end of their shifts.
Henderson said the 10-member crew had already processed the rubble of six homes and had recovered important items, including an urn with a loved one’s remains and a ring that had been passed down by an evacuated resident’s mother.
“That was something they didn’t think they’d ever see again, so that was really overwhelming both for our team and for the people we’re finding these things for,” he said.
“It’s very heartwarming to see the people’s response when you find some of these things,” he said, adding that the recoveries can help some people begin to heal from the trauma of the fire.
Twenty-five families in the First Nation have signed up to have their properties sifted, Henderson said.
Crews plan to tackle at least 31 properties in the Village of Lytton itself, but don’t yet have clearance to access the community because of toxic and other safety hazards.
Multiple investigations into the cause of the fire, which swept through the community on June 30, remain underway.